Ivy Taylor is a San Antonio City Council member. She’s currently considered a frontrunner to succeed outgoing Mayor Julian Castro once he leaves to become Housing Secretary. Her elevation to Mayor would be historic, as she would be the first African-American Mayor of San Antonio, but it has also generated some controversy because in 2013 she voted against expanding the city’s non-discrimination ordinance in San Antonio to include protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. San Antonio College Professor Frederick Williams penned an op-ed in the San Antonio Current in defense of CM Taylor.
Some residents from the LBGT community have publicly made it known that they oppose Taylor’s consideration by the council to serve as mayor in the interim before May’s general election. Their opposition is based primarily on her 2013 vote against the ordinance that bans discrimination in city contracting based on sexual preference and gender expression. Political activist and former chairman of CAUSA, a gay and lesbian organization, Dan Graney has stated his strong opposition to Taylor. In an interview with the Express-News, he said, “While it would be historic for the first African-American woman to become mayor of San Antonio, Ivy Taylor is not that person because she does not meet the test of being a leader who will fairly represent the interest of all San Antonians.”
Community activist William B. Johnson believes that the councilwoman was wrong in her vote against the ordinance. However, he does not believe that one vote means she will not represent the entire city. Taylor has made it quite clear that if the council votes her into the mayor’s office for the interim, she will uphold all laws and ordinances passed by the council, to include the anti-discrimination ordinance. Political Science professor and long-time resident of District 2 Margaret Richardson also believes that Taylor should have supported the ordinance, but like Johnson, is in favor of her elevation to the mayor’s office.
Taylor’s situation is comparable to that of President Barack Obama, who originally opposed gay marriage. But as civil rights attorney Chris Pittard of Forte and Pittard points out, the president finally came around to supporting that and other constitutional rights for the LBGT community. This potentially damaging division between the two communities could lead to Taylor being denied this historic opportunity due to opposition from LBGT groups. Johnson and Richardson have it right when they argue that her one vote should not outweigh the significance of a black woman serving as mayor of the seventh largest city in the country. If the LBGT community is held responsible for her failure to become mayor, it could give the homophobes in the black community even more ammunition to oppose LGBT citizens’ quest for equal rights, something they definitely deserve
President Obama’s opposition to same sex marriage back in 2008 is often cited as a defense for people who remain out of step with today’s Democratic Party on equality issues. One reason why marriage equality is completely mainstream among Democrats is because of Obama’s endorsement of the issue during the 2012 campaign. That was considered courageous at the time, and it put a lot at stake by doing it essentially unprompted during a Presidential race, though by that point the President wasn’t exactly out in front of the issue. Still, his support gave cover to every other Democrat, and contributed greatly to the widespread acceptance marriage equality enjoys today. It also means that the courage needed and the risk-taking involved to make that stand in a contentious election in 2012 just aren’t there for a non-discrimination ordinance in 2013. Sure, there would be plenty of heat for supporting that ordinance, but way more people have your back for it now.
My point is that President Obama stuck his neck out and showed leadership in 2012. Ivy Taylor had a chance to do that in 2013, with much lower stakes, and she declined. One needs to be careful in using the story of Candidate Obama in 2008 and marriage equality, because the story didn’t end there. If Professor Williams’ point is that we managed to look past this blot on Obama’s candidacy in 2008 and things turned out all right anyway, I’ve got two responses. One is that it’s not 2008 any more. We’ve come a long way on the equality issue, as already noted, and it’s difficult to the point of impossibility to understand what anyone’s reluctance is about now. I understand there are counterveiling forces out there, especially in local politics, and they can be awfully noisy when these issues come to the forefront. I’m sure CM Dwight Boykins can relate to what Ivy Taylor is going through. But we can all see which way the arc of history is bending. You tell me where it’s best to be in relation to that.
And two, what is Ivy Taylor doing to demonstrate that she can and will come around on this as President Obama did? Saying she will “uphold all laws and ordinances passed by the council” is the same as saying she will not violate her oath of office. It’s literally the least she can do. What has she said or done to indicate that she sees things differently now, that she understands the importance of San Antonio’s update non-discrimination ordinance, and that she will work to improve things further? Her No vote in 2013 means she doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt. She needs to prove it.
That’s what it comes down to for me, and I say that as someone who is neither a San Antonian nor a spokesperson for the LGBT community in San Antonio. There are good reasons to be skeptical of Ivy Taylor, so it’s on her to provide good reasons why that skepticism is no longer warranted. If she can do that, great! Give her serious consideration for the Interim Mayor job. If not, well, then I have no problem with opposing that consideration. Regardless, the ball is in her court.